As we celebrate what would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday, it’s crucial to remember four important sentences once sung by Mojo Nixon:
“Elvis is everywhere. Elvis is everything. Elvis is everybody. Elvis is still The King.”
Maybe Nixon wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the chorus of this 1987 recording can also be juxtaposed to the four main eras of Elvis.
Elvis is everywhere.
This perfectly describes young Elvis. Memphis Elvis. In 1954 Sam Phillips rolled tape at Sun Studios of Elvis recording Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama).” By blending blues, honky tonk and rockabilly; Elvis changed the game. For a while it looked like teenagers and rock ‘n’ roll might just take over the world. Suddenly this young blue-eyed, pelvis-swaying sensation was everywhere. He was omnipresent. Read More →
This last Tuesday, Pandora sent out the push notification: “Our music curators think you’ll love Hipster Holidays Radio this holiday season. Try it today!” If you’ve ever seeded or thumbed-up anything deemed cool, indie or “hip” – you received that notification. It’s really that simple.
Pandora is headquartered in a hip part of Oakland, California – which means each day, our employees walk streets considered by many to be a West Coast epicenter of hipsterdom. But this recent social conversation around the term “hipster” got us thinking more critically: what’s the history behind this word, anyway? Being the OCD music and pop-culture geeks that we are, the subject was researched! And, wouldn’t you know it, the word has a deep musical tie in.
The origin of the term “hipster” has nothing to do with boutique fixed-gear bicycles. But it pedals back to 1938 when Cab Calloway jokingly wrote The Hepster Dictionary to accompany his sheet music – it was a glossary of jive terms spoken by “hepcats” (African American jazz enthusiasts). So then “hepcat” evolved into “hipster” by the 1940s. In June of 1948, Anatole Broyard wrote a piece for Partisan Review entitled “A Portrait of the Hipster.” In it, he describes hipsters as blues and jazz informed delinquents on a quest for self-definition. Read More →
Around mid October I went costume shopping and heard Christmas carols wafting from the store’s speakers – a full two weeks before Halloween! Does anyone care about timing anymore? We do. No matter what your taste in music is, Pandora’s Curation Team and I have your Halloween soundtracks covered. Our Family Halloween station is more fun than frightening – I’d love to teach my sister’s kids how do dance “The Monster Mash.” And if Ray Parker Jr. “…ain’t afraid of no ghost,” why should they be? A couple of the Halloween parties I’ve been invited to are Walking Dead themed. That’s why I’m loading up my phone with Halloween Party – it makes me want to drink pumpkin ale and dance like the zombies in “Thriller.” Also, you don’t have to enjoy Halloween ironically to dig Hipster Halloween. It’s got everything from Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall to Dead Moon and The Black Keys. And should your inner goth be craving some darker cuts, tune into to Ghostly Grooves. Or for a more sophisticated way to induce goosebumps, click on Spooky Symphonies while reading some Edgar Allan Poe.
Of course, Halloween Metal is my favorite. While curating this station, I was getting all kinds of awesome memory flashbacks. Fittingly, one of my earliest metal memories took place on Halloween. In second grade, my best friend Dave and I convinced our parents to buy us KISS costumes. Back then you could get a plastic mask and accompanying Halloween smock in a grocery store for the price of a couple cheeseburgers. Dave wanted to be Gene Simmons and I wanted to be Ace Frehley (admittedly, part of me still wants to be Ace Frehley). But as Dave and I put on these costumes, I remember looking in the mirror and feeling kind of dumb. Because even back then I knew that the real “Space Ace” wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a plastic bib with a picture of himself that read, “Ace Frehley!” Still, that night our trick-or-treating efforts yielded tons of candy. Read More →
You know how music can bring back a flood of old memories, emotions and even certain smells or tastes? Building Pandora’s Progressive Bluegrass station totally did that to me. I was introduced to the genre by way of San Francisco’s beloved Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival – an annual weekend-long concert in Golden Gate Park featuring traditional bluegrass bands, non-traditional bluegrass bands and everything in between. I’ve been attending almost every year since its 2001 inception. Because the event always happens the first weekend of October, just listening to David Grisman, Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers, Carolina Chocolate Drops or Robert Plant & Alison Krauss brings back all kinds of autumnal vibes – the shedding trees, a crisper coastal air and darker beers.
The first time I’d ever heard there was a music genre called “progressive bluegrass,” I admittedly envisioned the guys in Rush playing banjos and fiddles. Up until then, the only time I’d ever heard the word “progressive” used in relation to music was when describing prog-rock. Bob Dylan went electric at Newport Folk Festival in 1965 – this was around the same time that The Byrds’ first album was released. So if adding amplifiers and drums to folk created the term “folk-rock,” why wasn’t progressive bluegrass simply named “bluegrass-rock?” While curating the songs on this genre station I learned why. Not all progressive bluegrass involves the simple addition of electric guitars and drum kits. In fact, most bands comprising the genre still adhere to playing classic acoustic instruments. But what’s progressive here is that these musicians have decidedly moved beyond the purists’ parameters of the traditional stringband blueprint to explore new and different possibilities. Read More →
If peanut shells surround your feet; someone is rag dolling on a mechanical bull and, most importantly, patrons are two-step dancing to country music, you’re in a honky tonk. You can find honky tonks all over the United States, but the term may have originated in 1889 in Fort Worth Texas where locals petitioned the re-opening of “The Honky Tonk Theater” on Main Street. Listening to the Honky Tonk station on Pandora takes me there.
When early country music started to go electric, an amplified lap-steel guitar (often the same kind played in Hawaiian music and western swing) and a punctuated two-beat rhythm section was added to the already existing template built on acoustic guitar, fiddle and high-lonesome vocal harmonies. Add to this a dexterous electric guitar picker like the late, great Don Rich who could make a Fender Telecaster bend, squawk and snarl. Before they became legends, artists like Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn would originally play this style of music in seedy old roadhouses and dive bars called “honky tonks” (which were likely named after the first one in Fort Worth). Read More →
Has an album ever changed your life? During my mid 20s, I was accidentally introduced to the music of Gram Parsons, the founder of what he called “cosmic American music,” or more broadly, Country Rock. I was deep in a rock-n-roll only phase when I discovered this music by way of Dinosaur Jr. covering “Hot Burrito #2.” This was a song by Parsons’ oddly named band The Flying Burrito Brothers. I bought the first two albums of that band and my curiosity about Parsons grew.
When I first heard this music I remember thinking many things. How had I not heard this before? Was there similar sounding stuff out there? I always assumed I’d hate the music my dad loved, but these songs made country music make sense.
Curator Eric Shea at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville
Parsons’ career path catapulted him through some of the most popular bands of the late 60s. He helped The Byrds go country with Sweetheart Of The Rodeo before running off with Byrds’ bassist Chris Hillman. They bought some flashy, hippie, cowboy suits and formed The Flying Burrito Brothers. Parsons purportedly left the Burritos after just one year.
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Most times, the first things you’ll notice are the hiss, pops and crackles of the antiquated fidelity. The genre’s earlier recordings are delightfully haunting – as if you’re hearing ghosts play scratchy old records. And then the slide guitars and fiddles sound like they’re laughing joyously over buoyant rhythms. But when those bouncy horns, piano and guitars saunter in; that’s when you’re hearing some top-shelf Western Swing. And should some cartoonish vocals pipe-in with a high-pitched, “A-ha!” you can be certain that you’re listening to Bob Wills, the king of Western Swing.
Every few years I go through a Bob Wills phase – and by proxy, a Western Swing phase. Subsequently, I just updated Pandora’s Country & Western Swing station with a bunch of my all-time favorite tunes from this realm (as well as some Classic Country and Honky-Tonk for complimentary flavor). Read More →
I was a teenage skater, which back in the eighties meant I didn’t meet many girls. But there was one – Brynn was what we affectionately called a “Skate-Betty.” She stood out from the others with her sun-bleached bowl-cut, hi-top Vans, a flannel tied around her waist and a warm California smile that gave me the courage to ask her out. We instantly bonded on music. She was into many of the same Skate Rock bands that I listened to like JFA and Agent Orange. But she also turned me on to stuff I’d never heard before like Voivod and Reagan Youth.
Do you remember the first mix-tape you made for a crush? What about the opposite – a mix that you curated following a heart-bludgeoning break-up? As we approach Valentine’s Day, it’s easy for me to flashback to the very first amorous mix that I recorded…and my first break-up tape. Allow me to share a few of the lessons that I learned from building those mixes.
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MLK Day never fails to find us reflecting on Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As a lifelong record collector, musician and now Music Curator for Pandora – it also reminds me how the birth of the Civil Rights Movement was a groundbreaking time in music. It was a time that inspired songwriters of many genres to pen some of the most powerful and beautiful songs in the history of recorded music. During this part of the 1960s and 1970s, Gospel, Folk, Rock, Funk, Soul, Blues and even Jazz included musicians singing about themes of freedom and equal rights.
To commemorate this incredibly important time in history, we’ve made a Pandora Mix Tape: Songs Of Change.
As much as I dig all kinds of new music, it’s the songs recorded during this time that tend to populate most of my music collection – my Pandora profile alone is telltale proof of my love for the classics. My generation’s musicians are lucky in that they never had to muse on the draft or the kinds of segregation that existed in the past.
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Long before the inception of Pandora, I can vividly recall the very first thumbs-down that I gave to a song. It also happened to be my first time butting heads with my parents on musical taste. It was Christmas of 1980 and my father had just dropped the hi-fi needle on a scratchy 45-rpm copy of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “A Night To Remember.” Even though I was only nine-years-old, I knew before the first chorus that I didn’t like his voice.
“What is this?” I asked. My father replied, “It’s my favorite Christmas song by Engelbert Humperdinck.” I remember suddenly laughing uncontrollably.
“What? What’s so funny?” My dad demanded. “That’s not his real name,” I insisted. Now my father’s face was starting to redden as he retorted, “The man has a terrific voice. He’s English…just like The Beatles!” Read More →